When I saw this drawing by artist, Suzanne Starr, on my LinkedIn feed, I was so intrigued by the figures in the picture that I had to write their story. I contacted Suzanne to ask her permission, and now we have a collaboration across continents. Awesome!
You can find more of Suzanne’s artwork at www.suzannestarart.com – check it out!
Part of my Flash Fiction collection
The people who lived in the picture
‘Who are they, Ashley?’ Charlie pointed up at the picture on his bedroom wall. ‘Are they family too?’
Ashley glanced at the picture which was hanging next to the school room door. She’d never really noticed it before, but then she’d hardly ever been in the austere blue-painted room (formerly the nanny’s room) in which her young cousin was staying until it was time for him to start at his new school in England.
‘I don’t rightly know, Charlie.’ Ashley carefully took the picture down from the wall and came to sit beside him on the bed. They looked at it together. It was a small pencil drawing of five children of varying ages, or maybe four children and their mother, tightly grouped together with their arms wrapped around each other. They were wearing outdoor clothes which looked rather old-fashioned, thought Ashley. The drawing looked old too, faded, the paper discoloured along the one edge of the wooden frame.
‘Look at their expressions; they’re so lifelike.’ said Ashley.’
‘They look sad,’ said Charlie.
‘Maybe it’s because they’re posing,’ said Ashley. ‘Like the in the old photographs on the piano downstairs.’
‘The little boy at the front, what’s he holding?
Ashley peered at the picture. ‘I think it’s a spinning top. You know, you push the handle up and down,’ she demonstrated a pumping action, ‘and it spins. I’m sure we’ve still got ours somewhere. I’ll see if Hodge knows where it is.’
‘But I wonder why he looks so cross.’
‘Perhaps it’s because he’s had to stand still for so long and maybe he’d rather go and play,’ she ruffled Charlie’s golden hair. ‘You’d be scowling too.’ Ashley laughed.
Charlie pouted and then giggled as Ashley chucked him under the chin.
Ashley returned the picture to its place on the wall. ‘Come on, Charlie, it’s time for lunch. We can ask Hodge about the spinning top.’
Ashley was curled up in the drawing room with her notebook at her side. She’d intended to finish her latest fairy story, but her mind kept drifting back to the drawing. Maybe there was a story there, ‘The people who lived in the picture’. She smiled to herself and glanced at her watch; Charlie was supposed to be studying to prepare him for the start of school, but he wouldn’t mind if she just popped in to borrow the picture. As instructed, she wouldn’t disturb him.
Charlie’s door was closed. ‘Charlie? Can I come in?” Ashley knocked politely and waited. ‘Charlie? Are you there?
There was no reply. Ashley put her ear to the door. Perhaps he’d dozed off. She wouldn’t be surprised; the books with which he’d arrived looked deathly dull to her. As she put her hand on the doorknob, she heard a huge crash, as if something had fallen on the floor.
‘Charlie?’ She turned the doorknob and pushed the door, but it wouldn’t open. ‘Charlie! Let me in!’ She shoved the door hard and it yielded. She looked around. Charlie was crouching on the floor in the corner of the room. A brightly painted metal spinning top rolled across the room towards her.
Ashley picked the toy up and turned to Charlie. ‘Hodge found it then,’ she said. ‘What on earth were you doing with it?’
Charlie shook his head and pointed to the picture. Ashley crossed the room and looked; the little boy’s hands were empty. He was leaning forward, arms outstretched, as if he’d just dropped (thrown?) something. Ashley looked at Charlie in disbelief.
Ashley held out her hand to Charlie. They fled from the room.
They found Hodge peeling potatoes in the kitchen. Breathlessly Charlie tried to explain what had happened.
‘Slow down, slow down!’ She wiped her hands on her apron. ‘Now, Miss Ashley, you’ve not been scaring young Master Charlie with your fairy stories, have you?’
‘No, Hodge, it’s real, really real.’ Charlie’s bottom lip quivered.
Hodge reached out and put her arm around Charlie’s shoulder. ‘All right, luvvy, let’s go and have a look.’
Charlie hung back as Hodge marched into his bedroom followed by Ashley. The picture lay face down on the floor and the schoolroom door was open. Hodge bent down and picked it up. Suddenly the schoolroom door was snatched shut. Hodge looked up. ‘Master Charlie?’
‘I’m here,’ said Charlie stepping into the room. Behind him they heard footsteps running along the landing.
Hodge turned the picture over. It was a drawing of an empty room.
©2018 Chris Hall